Friday, January 18, 2008

Flowchart: Untangling Atheist Dogma

It has been said that atheism is as much a dogma as any religion; That atheism is itself a religion with a strict "belief system" that is accepted without question by its adherents.

As an atheist myself, and being sympathetic to the theist's struggle to comprehend the complex workings of the "atheist dogma" I could not shake the sense of compulsion to shed light upon the matter.

It has been a wild journey, these past few months. Many tireless days and long, sleepless nights have gone into the production of this, my most greatest acheivement. And if I gain nothing else from my efforts, I hope that I may find satisfaction in the knowledge that I have provided the religious world with a key that will unlock the cipher of atheism. A rosetta stone, if you will.

A big effing neon sign to illuminate the mass of dim, vacant minds that pass beneath.

I present to you, Flowchart: Untangling Atheist Dogma

I hope it is clear enough.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Product Review - Amplitube 2

(click the picture for a larger view)

Aplitube 2 is an effects plug-in processor for digital audio recording. It emulates, remarkably well, a wide variety of guitar pre-amplifier and cabinet sounds along with quite a few stomp pedal effects and digital effects processes.

The idea is that you can basically build your own set-up without the need for spending thousands of dollars on expensive, bulky equipment. Amplitube retails somewhere between $300 - $400.

I'll give you the pros and cons:

Pros - It sounds fantastic. And with an assortment of interchangeable rigs, the possibilities are nearly endless. And anything you can tweak on your real set-up, can be tweaked in amplitube: bass, middle, treble, presence, gain, spring and/or digital reverb, distortion, chorus, modulators, compressor, decompressor, etc. You can even adjust the placement of the (imaginary) microphone and how much ambience to allow from the (imaginary) room. Amplitube also includes a few bass pre-amps and cabs as well.

Cons - Unfortunately there is simply no substitute for the real thing. While technically, the combinations and possibilities are limitless, digital effects can go only so far, no matter how brilliantly designed, in achieving what analog recording can achieve effortlessly. You may find yourself blown away, initially, by how unbelievably real it sounds. But you will eventually realize that it is likely because your expectations were low in the first place.

Besides that, my only other complaint is that the quality of the effects from the stomp pedals are a bit lacking and although there are 21 different stomp effects, most of them turn out to be a disappointment.

Conclusion - I recommend it as long as you understand that what you are getting is a great, versatile, and wildly entertaining digital effects plug-in. You are not a getting the real thing.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Star Trek: A Temporal Anomaly (part 1)

*This is Part 1 of a 2 part series. I will add a link for part two when it is finished*

Why did we love Star Trek: The Next Generation so much? What was it that captivated us and kept us on the edge of our seats through all 178 episodes over the course of seven seasons?

Was it the cast? Were we interested in whether Riker and Troi would finally get together? Did we care whether Geordi would get his sight back or whether Data would finally get his emotions? (I guess we can all agree it had nothing to do with Whoopi Goldberg)

Was it the technology? The replicator, the warp drives, the holodeck? Perhaps the seductive voice of the Computer?

Or was it the faint sense of grandeur and pride we felt from seeing ourselves in the future, not as the vicious and intolerant people we are today, but as humans united in a single purpose: to boldly go where no one has gone before?

Of course not. We loved it because those bumbling fools couldn't travel three parsecs without doing a face-plant into a temporal anomaly of one sort or another.

Data: Captain, it appears to be a distortion of the space-time continuum.
Picard: Let's check it out. Engage!
Data: Captain, it appears to be a distortion of the...

That's quality programming.

So I took it upon myself to compile a list of some of the best episodes involving time travel, time warps, and basically any kind of disruptance in a continuum I could find.

Enjoy the nostalgia.

Time Squared - (Season 2, Episode 13):

The Enterprise encounters a shuttle hurtling through space which, as it turns out, is carrying Captain Picard from 6 hours in the future. Picard from the future is in a restless state, unable to communicate with the crew. They learn from the shuttle's camera log that Future Picard traveled through, get this, a temporal anomaly and was sent 6 hours backwards in time.

Out of nowhere the anomaly appears. Present Picard orders the crew to escape at warp speed but the ship is held by the anomaly. As they approach the 6 hour mark, Future Picard begins to regain a sort've semi-conscious state in which he insists he must get to the shuttle. It becomes apparent that Future Picard must have entered the anomaly in order to save the crew from destruction.

Wishing to avoid an infinite loop, Present Picard orders the Enterprise directly into the anomaly. Future Picard and the anomaly vanish.

Yesterday's Enterprise - (Season 3, Episode 15):

The Enterprise (NCC-1701-D) encounters another Enterprise (NCC-1701-C) believed to have been destroyed in the past. They learn that 1701-C, in its own time period, was on the verge of destruction after being attacked by Romulans while responding to a Klingon distress signal.

In the present time period, the Federation has been involved in a bloody war with the Klingon empire. Guinan's (yes... Guinan's) instinct tells her that the 1701-C does not belong in this timeline and should be sent back through the rift.

They decide that the Federation's current war with the Klingons is perhaps the result of the 1701-C's presence in their own timeline and that its correct fate, i.e. its destruction while defending a Klingon outpost, would have prevented the war, since it would have been seen as an honorable gesture by the Klingons.

The 1701-C travels back through the rift. The 1701-D's timeline is instantly altered to one in which the Klingons and the Federation are not at war. The crew is unaware of the events transpired.

Future Imperfect - (Season 4, Episode 8):

After a failed away mission, Riker awakens in the future, unable to recall anything for the past 16 years. He learns that he is now Captain of the enterprise, has a son, and had a wife who has been dead for two years. He is also told that the Enterprise will be escorting an ambassador from the Romulan empire to a Federation base in the Neutral Zone where they will conduct negotiations for a peace treaty.

Suspicious of the situation, Riker discovers that he is part of a charade. He confronts the Romulan ambassador and suddenly finds himself on a Romulan holodeck. He is told that he was captured by the Romulans on the away mission.

Riker is taken to a cell where he finds a boy who looks like his son from the charade. The boy says he has also been captured by the Romulans. The two of them escape together, but Riker eventually becomes suspicious of the boy as well.

Again Riker discovers that none of what he sees is real. This time, however, he finds himself in a cave with the boy on the planet where they had conducted the away mission. The boy, now in his true alien form, explains that he had been alone on the planet and wished the companionship of Riker. Riker convinces the boy to come with him aboard the Enterprise.


Roll credits.

Cause And Effect - (Season 5, Episode 18):

- This one is my favorite -

The Enterprise is stuck in an infinite time loop:

Riker, Data, Worf and Dr. Crusher play poker and experience a slight feeling of deja vu. Crusher is called to sickbay where she examines Geordi. Again Crusher and Geordi have deja vu. Crusher goes to bed and hears voices in her sleep. She discusses it with Picard. The Enterprise encounters... wait for it... an anomaly. Engines fail! Red alert! The Enterprise is on a collision course with another Federation vessel. Picard consults Riker and Data for suggestions and takes Data's advice. The two ships collide.

This same scenario happens three times. Each time, however, the crew's sense of deja vu become more pronounced to the point where they can anticipating events before they happen. On the third cycle through, they realize that they are stuck in a time loop and that the voices Dr. Crusher is hearing in her sleep (which she recorded this time) are actually echos from previous loops.

Data manages to send a message back before the ships collide for a third time.

On the fourth time through the loop, everything happens the same except that the number 3 keeps showing up. When they are faced with the anomaly, Picard again chooses Data's advice over Rikers. At the last minute, Data notices the 3 pins on Riker's collar (representing his rank as commander) and realizes that the number 3 must represent Riker. Data tells the captain to follow Riker's suggestion.

The Enterprise avoids the collision and both ships exit the time loop. They discover that the ship they nearly collided with had been stuck in a loop for 90 years and was captained by none other than Kelsey Grammer.

Americans all across the country lament for years to come that Kelsey Grammer was ever allowed to escape from the time loop.

Much of this information was provided by Check them out if you get a chance. You will find a detailed synopsis of every episode from every season there.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Understatement: It's Getting Out Of Hand

Before you label me as a Fair Tax nutcase, let me state that I understand the merit, and perhaps necessity, of a graduated tax structure and that the essential purpose of the IRS and IRC is to provide for an equitable distribution of the burden. But jesus, there's got to be a better solution.


  • $10.9 Billion - That's the 2008 budget for the Internal Revenue Service.

  • $20 Billion - That is the revenue earned by the four largest (the big four) accounting firms from tax services alone for their 2007 fiscal years.

  • 3,000 - That is a conservative estimate of the number of CPA firms in the United States. (Depending on your source, that number may be significantly higher.)

Do the math with me. If my calculations are correct, and I believe they are, we spend approximately an assload of money each year trying to arrive at taxable income. And it is getting worse:

  • 10.8% - That is the average growth rate of the top 100 public accounting firms for FYE 2007 (down from 16.5% in 2006).
But the real atrocity here is the millions of man-hours wasted each year in this pointless endeavor.

The Internal Revenue Code is absurdly complex with each of the 9,833 sections of the Code requiring guidance, clarification and interpretation by countless rulings, regulations and publications. This 87 page word doc is one Treasury Regulation providing interpretation for one section of the Internal Revenue Code. Scroll through that and see if it doesn't make you want to ball like a crazed Britney Spears fan (leave her alone!)

So CPA's are intelligent. It's a near certainty since the certification exam is so difficult. One study of people who have taken both the CPA exam and the Bar exam indicates that participants consider the CPA exam to be slightly more difficult than the Bar exam. Sure, you're going to have a few numb skulls slip through the cracks an become certified. The point is, however, that taxation is not only an astronomical waste of time. It is an astronomical waste of intelligent time.

Think about it; all that money and all those hours essentially crammed down an enormous toilet. Imagine what could be accomplished if all that time and effort was focused on a something slightly more productive... like masturbation, for example.

In the spirit of lending a shred of credibility to this article, I'd like to point out that I work in the tax department of a large public accounting firm. I stand to suffer considerable financial difficulty in the event that we come to our senses. But then again, what are the chances of that?

Monday, January 7, 2008

Carl Sagan's Cosmos Returns To Television January 8, 2008

*UPDATE - 1/15/08 - It appears that the Discovery Science channel has dropped cosmos from the Sunday spot. But you should still be able to catch it in the other timeslots.*
Carl Sagan's famous PBS series Cosmos is returning to television tonight, January 8 on the Discovery Science channel at 9:00pm Eastern beginning with the first episode "The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean." There will be a new episode each week. They are 1 hour in length.

The Episodes will be rerun on Wednesdays at 12:00am, 4:00am, 10:00am and on Sundays at 5:00pm, for anyone who misses the first airing.

The Science Channel's listings on their website currently only go up through January 28, but I believe the airings will consistent.

Here is a list of all 13 episodes for anyone who is interested:

Episode 1: "The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean"
Episode 2: "One Voice in the Cosmic Fugue"
Episode 3: "The Harmony of the Worlds"
Episode 4: "Heaven and Hell"
Episode 5: "Blues for a Red Planet"
Episode 6: "Travelers' Tales"
Episode 7: "The Backbone of Night"
Episode 8: "Travels in Space and Time"
Episode 9: "The Lives of the Stars"
Episode 10: "The Edge of Forever"
Episode 11: "The Persistence of Memory"
Episode 12: "Encyclopedia Galactica"
Episode 13: "Who Speaks for Earth?"

Make time for it. Let your kids stay up late.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Strangest Shit I Have Ever Seen

Alright, either I am missing a very important bit of context that would somehow offer a reasonable answer to the question undoubtedly on all our minds (wtf?) or this is in fact the most bizarre, inexplicable piece of footage in the history of moving pictures. No, strike that. This is the most bizarre 1:30 in the history of humanity.

Either that, or these people are just stoned out of their minds.

Product Review - M-Audio Fast Track USB

I'll give you the short and to the point review first:

Save up for something better, dipshit.

Now here's why:

Don't get me wrong. The M-Audio Fast Track USB served its purpose fairly well. The quality of my audio recordings was immediately improved. And I got a lot of use out of it. Installation was simple and tech support has been decent.

It sounded like exactly what I needed; a pre-amp with a digital output (USB or firewire) with at least one microphone (xlr) input and one guitar input. I was fairly new to audio recording (or more accurately, I was new to having a little extra cash to spend on audio recording devices) and I wasn't satisfied, of course, with the standard line-in on my internal soundcard.

And so, lacking any amount of foresight or patience, I went out and bought the Fast Track. I bought it for I think around $100 - 130 about a year and a half or two years ago.

Here are my complaints:

1. Latency - This is the number one issue for me. While I can get somewhere around 10ms latency (which is pretty good for USB) on a single track with limited effects, the problems arise when I have multiple tracks with a few real-time effects processes running on each. In many circumstances, as the audio project becomes more complex, the production grinds to a halt unless I increase the latency to an amount that makes monitoring useless.

Although I haven't tried it, I have heard that the M-Audio Fast Track Pro, which uses firewire instead of USB, alleviates this problem considerably. I cannot vouch for it, but if latency is your only concern, the Fast Track Pro might suite your needs. It is, however, slightly more expensive than the USB version.

2. Single In/Single Out - I keep kicking myself for this one. I should have known... no, I DID know that I would quickly outgrow the usefullness of a single input (two if you are counting both the xlr and guitar ins together), single output pre-amp. It wasn't long after I purchased the Fast Track that I realized what a waste it was for a musician to invest $100 for a one channel in/out recording device. For two or three times the price, i could have had 8 times the channels. Do yourself a favor; If you think there is a possibility you may want to record multiple tracks simultaneously and you haven't got boatloads of cash lying around, don't compromise. Just settle your ass down, put your money away, and save up.

It is important to point out that even if you do get a multi track mixer, you need to be aware that a USB connection will still only support one track output. So even if you've got your whole band coming in on 8 separate tracks, if you're using a device that only supports USB, you are limited to one track output. You won't be able to level, equalize, compress and add effects to those 8 tracks individually, once they are recorded.

Firewire can handle multiple out tracks, so I recomend not only getting the multi-track mixer, but also spending the extra couple bucks for the firewire version. Something like the Alesis MultiMix 8 FireWire would work and you can get it for around $300.

3. Random Violient Hissing - My final complaint is a problem that is perhaps peculiar to my device although I suspect others have had the same issue as well. My M-Audio Fastrack USB, for no apparent reason, succumbs to random bouts of violent, earsplitting hissing or white noise. It is managable, I suppose, in the same sense that genital herpies outbreaks are managable; that is, it happens and there's nothing you can do about.

Tech support tells me it is probably a driver issue. But I have updated, unistalled, and reinstalled the drivers multiple times. I've disabled other audio devices. Adjusted my audio settings and software preferences. I've practically taken the thing out for dinner and a movie. All to no avail. Chances are, if you buy the Fast Track, you won't have this problem. But it is certainly worth addressing.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Miles - DMX vs. Ghostbusters

Rap on Pilot Into Space is going to be a rare occurance, but I couldn't pass this one up. This is a 100% brilliant mash-up of of DMX and the Ghostbusters theme. I found it on The Sixtyone. The song was mixed by a guy named Miles. Here is his profile on The Sixtyone where you can stream the song directly. Or...

Just wait for the GB theme to kick in. Genius!

Adam McCauley

I recently discovered and have been in contact with a fantastic artist/illustrator/musician living in California by the name of Adam McCauley. Aside from being an all around nice fellow, he's somewhat of a phenomenon. Forget that "jack of all trades" bullshit, this guy is a master of all trades.

For starters, check out his illustrations on his wildly user friendly and aesthetically marvelous website. I recomend taking a peak at his personal work section and flipping through one of his pieces. Take your pick, they're all unique and equally brilliant.

Besides his personal work, he also has illustrated a slew of published children's books and even authored a few as well.

And if that wasn't enough, which brings me to the point of the post, on top of all that he has drummed for a number of excellent bands, past and present. So many that I lose track which ones he was in and which ones he has friends in. But his current band is Bermuda Triangle Service and my favorite, which has unfortunately been disbanded, is Little My.

Download Tone Generator from Little My's album titled The Six Fingers Of Rick.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Marginal Savings Per Year, Per Mile Per Gallon

Click on the picture above to expand the spreadsheet.

I'll spare you the economics lesson and simply refer you to the probably inaccurate, but wildly convenient wiki entry for diminishing returns.

And since I'm surely not the first person to point out the phenomenon, I'll also spare you an editorial on the implications of this in relation to the search for alternative fuel sources.

But I will say this: I did not create this excel spreadsheet (which you can download and experiment with if you like) for the purpose of disparaging or discouraging the research and development of hybrid/alternative fuel technologies.

I put it together for the simple purpose of satisfying my own curiosity into the practical savings one can expect with increased fuel economy, with all other variables remaining constant. And so it is only as an ancillary afterthought that I point out, as a matter of fact, that this spreadsheet happens to also highlight the diminishing marginal return from increased fuel economy.

Please note that this spreadsheet does not take into account any additional upfront cost for the increase to fuel efficiency, nor the ongoing costs associated with alternative energy sources necessary to achieve the absurd levels indicated in the spreadsheet.

Stated simply, what you see is a calculation, strictly, of the marginal savings (of money spent on gasoline) per year that an additional mile per gallon of efficiency would provide over a baseline amount.

Download the excel file and use your own variables

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Secular Charity - No Strings Attached

Religious Charity: a necessary evil? Not necessarily.

If you're like me, you find it troubling that millions of Americans funnel billions of dollars each year into "charities" which openly admit in their mission statements that they "encourage and facilitate Christian-centered objectives" which may or may not make you nauseous. And if you're like me, you feel hopeless.

You want to give to those less fortunate than yourself. You desperately want to help that poor child in Africa you saw on the television commercial. And you know that a fraction of every dollar you donate, of every dollar everyone donates, goes towards spreading a ministry that you find repulsive in its foundation. But, alas, there are no alternatives.

Or are there?

The mantras that there would be no charity without religion and that atheists don't organize charities is simply false. There are actually plenty of good, efficient secular charities. That there is a conspicuous lack of atheist charities is simply a matter of mission; whereas, religious charities may explicitly state that it is part of their mission to spread faith of one sort or another, a charity founded by an atheist is likely to omit the unnecessary and cumbersome impediment of spreading an ideology in its mission.

In the rare instances where spreading an ideology does make its way into the mission of a secular charity, such as the Council for Secular Humanism, the focus is typically on teaching reason as an instrument of education and social progress; a decidedly different approach than the proselytizing spirit of its religious counterparts.

So here are a list of charities, secular in nature, whether explicitly or implicitly. I have included an excerpt from the website of each to give you a feeling for their mission. However, it is always prudent to do your own research before donating.

Doctors Without Borders - "MSF's decision to intervene in any country or crisis is based solely on an independent assessment of people's needs — not on political, economic, or religious interests. MSF does not take sides or intervene according to the demands of governments or warring parties."

Richard Dawkins Foundation For Reason And Science - " actually two sister foundations of the same name, one legally constituted in Britain and the other legally incorporated in the United States. The idea of having two linked charities, with the same aims and trustees, is that donors on either side of the Atlantic can give money to charities on the other side, either RDF itself, or other charities with similar aims, that the donor can specify. RDF will, therefore provide a service to all secular and freethinking charities."

The Fred Hollows Foundation - "The Fred Hollows Foundation is inspired by work of the late Professor Fred Hollows, whose vision was for a world where no one was needlessly blind. Collectively working in over twenty countries world-wide, with the help of our supporters, we hope to build on our record of restoring sight to well over one million people."

The Carl Sagan Foundation - "...seeks to further public understanding of the goals, methods and findings of science; to identify and challenge the misuse of science and high technology; to inspire the young to think critically and to consider career pathways in science. It sees its mission most urgently in those communities where exposure to science is likely to be minimal."

The Council For Secular Humanism - "North America's leading organization for non-religious people. A not-for-profit educational association, the Council supports a wide range of activities to meet the needs of people who find meaning and value in life without looking to a god. Its activities range from magazine publishing to campaigning on ethical issues, from conferences to support networks, from educational courses to conducting secular ceremonies, from local groups to international development."

UNICEF - "For every child: health, education, equality, protection. Advance humanity."

Bill And Melinda Gates Foundation - "Bill and Melinda Gates believe every life has equal value. In 2000, they created the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help reduce inequities in the United States and around the world."

I understand that I'm posting this, oh, a day or so late for 2007 tax year deductions. But this seems like a good opportunity for a new year's resolution anyhow. So get out there and donate and accept no strings attached.